Reviews

'The Office: Season Seven': Headed for an Event Horizon?

This five-disc set is packed with deleted scenes, extended versions, cast and crew commentaries, a blooper reel, three webisodes, and the full version of Michael Scott's epic Threat Level Midnight movie. It will please any fan.


The Office: Season Seven

Distributor: Universal
Cast: Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Ellie Kemper, B.J. Novak, Oscar Nunez, Angela Kinsey, Ed Helms, Leslie David Baker, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Creed Bratton
Release date: 2011-09-06
Amazon

I was going to lead off this review by asking if The Office has jumped the shark, but since that phrase has jumped the shark, I think I'll go with "Has The Office nuked the fridge?" (An Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull reference, natch.)

Well, has it? Personally, I think that question is better asked sometime during, or at the end of, the upcoming eighth season, but the series certainly has the potential to pass a narrative event horizon from which it will never return to its earlier greatness. Michael Scott was such an integral part of the show -- a man-child who truly wanted to do right by his employees but was limited by his emotionally stunted state -- that it will be hard to replace him.

James Spader's Robert California character is a step in the right direction, although it's my understanding that he likely won't be the branch manager. The brand of philosophy he espouses during his scenes in the Search Committee episode gives him an off-kilter quality much smoother than Michael Scott's rough-edged mania: for example, when he says that there is no such thing as a product, only sex, he leaves that thought hanging in the air, whereas Michael would have tacked on a comment like "And that's all I ever thought about in school, so, yeah, I guess advertising worked really well on me."

In contrast, I found Will Ferrell's Deangelo Vickers character to be irritating and pointless, an unnecessary distraction between Michael's departure and the interim branch managers' antics. He brought little to the show. While Dwight and Creed's management styles were predictable, they were a fun bridge to the final episode of the season, and Dwight getting his chance to serve as manager was something he so desperately wanted that he had to have his chance eventually.

Thus season seven finds the series at a turning point. Who will become branch manager if it's not Robert California? I hope it doesn't become an open-ended question that lingers throughout most of the eighth season; the writers need to establish someone new and move on. Maybe it would be better to go with someone laid-back and by-the-book, someone who can blend into the background while the other characters receive more attention. That wouldn't be a bad way to go.

You also can't go wrong with this five-disc season seven collection. It offers up copious amounts of deleted scenes, extended versions of the Training Day and Search Committee episodes, cast and crew commentaries on the Nepotism, PDA, Threat Level Midnight, and Dwight K. Schrute, (Acting) Manager episodes, the full version of Michael Scott's Threat Level Midnight movie, a 15-minute blooper reel, and three webisodes titled The Office: The 3rd Floor. (Yes, Dunder-Mifflin is on the second floor, but the title is explained in the webisodes.)

The deleted scenes, along with the footage added in for the extended episodes, showcase the wealth of material that comes out of an ensemble series. With so many rich characters in The Office, there are plenty of opportunities for sequences that are just as funny as the stuff that made it to air, like Kevin's declaration that he decided to become a pathological liar over the summer. ("What a tangled web I'm weaving," he observes, in typical deadpan Kevin fashion.)

The webisodes follow in the same vein, with Ryan deciding to make a low-budget horror film in the office. It's just an eight-minute slice, but it's a fun piece of work. Unfortunately, it also feels like a rehash of Michael Scott's Threat Level Midnight movie: both riff on well-known movie tropes and were created by inept filmmakers who thought it would be easy to make a movie and earn piles of cash.

The full Threat Level Midnight movie is fun, but as B.J. Novak points out in the commentary on the episode, it would have been confusing if it had been aired without context, so pieces of it had to be removed. All of the commentaries in this set are group efforts that suffer the same fate as all group commentaries: plenty of random chit-chat and extraneous comments interspersed with a few interesting insights.

The only exception is the commentary on the "Goodbye Michael" episode, to which the participants bring a certain amount of seriousness given its bittersweet nature.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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